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November 24, 2010

Open-source chocolate

Ladies and gentlemen, we are facing a looming worldwide calamity. This powder keg is a result of the depletion of a precious natural resource necessary to the survival of mankind. I am not talking about the end of oil or the hole in the ozone layer or the excruciating, slow-motion demise of poetry, privacy and attention spans.

This potential disaster is far worse than any of those scenarios: We are running out of chocolate, people! And if my wife, daughter, sister and co-workers are reliable indicators of human behavior, we do NOT want to find out what happens when the world runs out of chocolate.

According to the leading chocolatiers (who are like Mouseketeers only less treacly), the laws of supply and demand are driving up chocolate prices. World prices have doubled in the past six years alone. By 2029, a bag of Goobers is projected to cost a first-born son (which is admittedly a price most mothers are projected to be willing to pay).

On the supply side, the usual villains are at work: predatory corporations, increasingly hostile climate conditions, and competition for land from biofuel crops. Cacao trees, which produce the fruit that makes chocolate — and, by extension, interpersonal relationships — possible, can only be grown within 10 degrees of the equator, and suitable land is quickly running out.

Meanwhile, on the demand side, millions of new consumers in the developing world are waking up, sleepily rubbing their eyes and going, “You know what would be the shit right now? Some Reese’s Pieces!” Studies have shown that eating chocolate increases brain activity and heart rate to the coveted Bow-Chicka-Wow-Wow level on the Oh God Oh God scale. From the brain’s point of view, a Hershey’s Kiss isn’t all that different from the other kind. What’s more, chocolate gives people the healing energy, positive motivation and self-esteem needed to get up and go shopping for more chocolate.

So unless we want the whole world to turn into an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” we must act quickly. Fortunately, scientists (who are always heroically pulling our asses out of the fire, despite our steadfast refusals to make out with them) may have a solution. In September, geneticists released the genome of the theobroma cacao tree, which they hope will lead to a dramatic increase in yield per acre and subsequently their own chances of getting laid. (Interesting footnote: The cacao genome has 35,000 genes compared to man’s 30,000, which probably isn’t all that surprising to womankind.)

If you don’t think a change in brain chemistry from the absence of a mild, crack-like substance like chocolate can have worldwide implications, consider what happened when the world dabbled with its neuroreceptors in 17th century Europe after the introduction of one of chocolate’s kissin’ cousins: coffee. In his book “The Invention of Air,” author Steven Johnson argues the coffeehouse culture that swept across Europe in the mid-1600s brought about the Enlightenment. Before coffee swept the land, everybody drank alcohol all day long because water was unsafe to drink. Once the shitfaced populace switched from depressant to stimulant, the change was dramatic.

Future Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Priestley (who is credited with isolating oxygen, inventing ecosystem science and co-founding the Unitarian church) began meeting at coffeehouses in England with other super geniuses and coming up with brilliant, highly caffeinated ideas that led to some really smart stuff. In Paris, people like Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot likewise began getting all hopped up on coffee. And before you could say “banner that is spangled with stars,” we had democracy and religious liberty and free will and human rights and encyclopedias and the spinning jenny and modern calculus and Candide and Eine kleine Nachtmusik. In short, the caffeine-fueled Age of Reason brought the world a previously unseen intelligence that would last until reality TV and Facebook came along and took us into a new Dark Ages.

When I recently gave my daughter some non-chocolate candy, she promptly informed me there are two kinds of candy: chocolate candy and not candy. We don’t want to face a new Dark Ages eating not candy, so here’s hoping open-source cacao can provide a sweet, chocolaty future.

This year, give a sweet, delicious Christmas gift: “Summary of My Discontent,” the book, now available at Carmichael’s Bookstore or Amazon. Or put the eBook in your iHole at www.lulu.com.